There was a lot to celebrate in Ottawa this past Canadian Premier League season. The club went from last place in the league in 2021 to winning the regular season title this past year, as well as qualifying for and hosting its first-ever CPL final. On the field, several players enjoyed breakout campaigns. Among them was 21-year-old midfielder Zakaria Bahous, who in his first professional season became a key part of the Atleti midfield. Bahous joined the club during the offseason from FC Laval in the PLSQ. He made his first professional appearance on April 9 in Ottawa's season-opening 1-0 win over Cavalry, coming on for the final minute of the match. From there, he would slowly earn the trust of coach Carlos González, providing key U-21 minutes in the process. González made it clear to Bahous early on, however, that even with the importance of those minutes he still had to earn them. As the season progressed, Bahous would secure that trust, making 17 starts. He scored his first professional goal on October 1 against Halifax Wanderers and provided an assist on the goal that ultimately won Ottawa their two-legged semi-final against Pacific. He also started, and played 57 minutes, in the 2022 CPL Final against Forge. “He has great talent, individually he is a brilliant player," said González. "But we needed to work on him, we needed to make him be more mature in the game, and understand better the game from the way that he wanted to play and I think he’s worked so hard during the season. He has done the correct steps in the process of developing a young talent."

Over the course of the season, the Longueuil, Québec native progressed into an excellent winner of the ball in midfield, finishing second on Ottawa in tackles won (29) and fourth in duels won (116).

Bahous has also benefited by being mentored by Ottawa's contingent of incredibly experienced midfielders. That includes 32-year-old Abdoul Sissoko, who has played at the highest level, including stints in La Liga and winning the Turkish Cup in 2017-18.

"I listen a lot and I try to copy a little bit, and then add a little bit of myself in there," Bahous says with a chuckle, "but that’s mostly it, listen, copy and apply.”

While he is incredibly pleased with the youngster's growth this year, González knows there is another level that Bahous can achieve. Taking that next step will be the goal for his sophomore CPL season.

"Still he has big margin to improve, still he has big room there to grow," says González.

Continue reading...